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Why More Senior Executives Need to Keep a Journal

Journaling: The process of documenting your thoughts, feelings, ideas, and actions in order to gain clarity and control over them.

The daily habit of journaling is one of the most beneficial that a senior leader can create and the structured reflection that it promotes is the basis of self-mastery. Many well-known leaders have used writing to bolster their decision making and drive their success. Richard Branson was known to always carry a standard size notebook to document comments made to him by staff and ideas from meetings; he explained that “the discipline of writing everything down ensures that I have listened to people carefully

Barack Obama is another famous advocate for journaling as a leadership tool. “In my life, writing has been an important exercise to clarify what I believe, what I see, what I care about, what my deepest values are. The process of converting a jumble of thoughts into coherent sentences makes you ask tougher questions.”

To Barack’s point, journaling allows us to convert a set of previously muddled ideas into something we can rationally articulate. Consequently, it enables us to ask the right questions that lead us to the right decisions.

This is Stone Heart Light Heart in action. We are sifting through thoughts and detaching from emotion, past conditioning, and ego; instead, turning in, listening to our truth and inner thoughts, and using that truth to guide our decisions and the way in which we lead.

There is no more important time for a leader to start the process of journaling than when they have recently stepped up to a Senior Executive position. The first 90 days is a period of learning and observation, critical for early success in the role. In parallel with this observation period though is an ever-growing queue of decisions to be made, relationships to forge and build and a forensic level of attention from inside and outside the organisation as people conduct their own observations of how you adapt to life in your new seat. In short it is intense.

In my role as a Recruitment Leader, I speak with countless executives every week, and as they share with me their challenges, desires, and ideas there is always one common theme. They have no time. We would all love the ability to slow things down a little, but in reality, it is not always an option, particularly for leaders at C-suite level. Instead, however, we can adapt how we respond to the challenges and decisions we face day to day.

The French philosopher Blaise Pascal famously said,  “All of humanity’s problems come from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” In other words, the best thinking comes from quiet, ordered reflection.

Replaying events during a period of reflection and documentation allows the brain the learn more through event repetition, you create more space for creating and solving complex problems as you identify patterns and successful approaches throughout your records. Over time the recurring themes in problems will become easier to respond to as the repeated documentation of problem and response allows you to understand what works and what doesn’t.

Journaling offers a key opportunity for Leaders to have a deepening relationship with themselves. When we slow things down and reflect, we can be more creative about solving seemingly inscrutable problems and we can tune into our higher consciousness and intuition when we remove ego from the decision-making process.

I started keeping a journal in my early 20’s and now as a CEO and author it is an essential tool. I document thought bubbles, what I see in a meditation, ideas from dreams, my responses to feedback, my visions, aspirations, micro and macro goals, and ideas I gain from interviewing executives.

Journal entries should provide not only a record of what happened but how we reacted emotionally; writing it down brings a certain clarity that puts things in perspective, allowing us to disengage from those emotional reactions in order to respond in a more ordered way. Recording your thoughts is also a form of mental rehearsal to prepare for particularly sensitive issues, or important events or meetings, where there’s no one to talk with or coach you but yourself.

Journals can be an anchor to slowing things down, leading to more considered decisions, more aware judgements, and an opportunity to identify patterns in your behaviour. A personal journal should be part of any leader’s toolkit.


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